Speaker: Sharyle Patton

Understanding and Reducing our Communities' Chemical Burden

Sharyle Patton is an environmental advocate who has spent much of her life working to remove toxic chemicals from the landscape and to empower communities to monitor their toxic burdens.  She led a network of 350 nongovernmental organizations from around the world in Stockholm in 2001 to guide the UN’s Persistent Organic Pollutants treaty, which calls for the worldwide elimination of the “dirty dozen” list of chemical contaminants considered among the world’s most hazardous. 

Sharyle grew up in the pristine mountains of Colorado, far from the factories that choke urban areas with smog and industrial waste. She later settled in Bolinas, Calif., a quaint, coastal ecotopia nestled among organic farms.  She discovered the town of Bolinas, Califonia and fell in love with it.  A pianist and singer who had studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Sharyle played jazz and bluegrass for a living during the 1970s.  In Bolinas, she met her husband, Michael Lerner, founder and director of Commonweal, an alternative-medicine think-tank and cancer healing center.

So Patton, a longtime environmental advocate who personally remains fit and active, was stunned recently when her own body tested positive for 107 chemical pollutants – all of them known or possible toxins. “I was really angry,” she says, “because I’d never given permission for my body to be used as a toxic-waste storage site.”

Intellectually, given her work, she understood the pervasiveness of chemical pollutants.  But she didn’t expect the emotional jolt she received when she learned that her body was polluted with more than 100 chemicals linked in animal studies to a list of devastating health effects including cancer, disruption of the hormone system, birth deformities, and neurological impairments.  Blood and urine were screened for pollutants when she volunteered for a study at the Mount Sinai Medical School in New York.  Patton’s test results hint at the ubiquity of toxins in the environment, and their manifold – and everyday – sources, creating a chemical body burden for all.

Patton has been working to help community-based organizations initiate biomonitoring.  She is the director of the Commonweal Environmental Health Program in Bolinas, CA, which seeks to protect human and ecosystem health from environmental contaminants. Commonweal takes a science-based approach to the challenge of reducing manmade contaminants in the environment, and is engaged in initiatives that include the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), the International POPS Elimination Network, and the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center.  Sharyle’s program has pioneered the implementation of biomonitoring projects initiated by community-based organizations and the communication of the data from such projects to project participants.  She has also been a member of the Experts Group of the California Environmental Health Tracking Program for the past six years.

Previously, Sharyle was director of the United States Citizens Network for Sustainable Development and served as NGO liaison on United States delegations to the United Nations Commission, and the United Nations Habitat Summit, and was an NGO delegate to the United Nations women’s conferences, focusing on women’s sexual rights and reproductive health.

Join us in conversation with this visionary environmental leader!

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